Album Reviews

Tangerine Dream - Tangram

After the highly successful Counting Out Time series, we thought it was a good idea to pay attention to some more of the greatest albums in prog history now and then. This Milestones series is a continuation of Counting Out Time and a shift from DPRP's focus on new releases.

album cover of Tangram by Tangerine Dream
"To paint a puzzle"

Band Members:
Edgar Froese - Keyboards, guitar
Chris Franke - Keyboards, electronic percussions
Johannes Schmoelling - Keyboards

Producers: Edgar Froese, Chris Franke
Engineer: Eduard Meyer

Tracks: 1 Tangram Set 1 (19:47), 2 Tangram Set 2 (20:27)

Tangerine Dream 1967-1979
(An introduction)

Edgar Froese

"The aim of the music [of Tangerine Dream] is to paint surreal pictures with musical instruments."

Edgar FroeseWhen looking at the activities of Tangerine Dream founding member and patriarch Edgar Froese in the late sixties, it is not strange that he should describe the music of Tangerine Dream as he does in the above quote. Froese, born in Tilsit, East Prussia in 1944, never intended to make his career in music, instead studying painting and sculpture in Berlin. He was a big admirer of the paintings of Dali, Picasso and early French surrealists, and he once said that he learned more substantial things about composing music by studying painting and actually carving big rocks with a hammer and chisel, than any conservatory in the world could have taught him.

Froese founded Tangerine Dream in Berlin in 1967. In its first years of existence, the band played American acid rock in the vein of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. This lasted two years, until in 1969 the group fell apart. This was when the real story of TD began.

TD's first recorded output was in the form of a very free form improvisation session called Electronic Meditation. At this time, the band consisted of Conrad Schnitzler and Klaus Schulze, the latter of whom would go one to have a very prolific solo career. The name Electronic Meditation is a little misleading, because there was in fact not much electronic about, other than the use of Schnitzler's keyboards.

Both Schulze and Schnitzler then left the band and Froese went on to search for new musicians. The first one he found was a young drummer called:

Chris Franke

"Nature wanted me to be a painter, but by accident I became a musician. Actually, I think of myself as a sonic painter or a sculptor of sound."

Chris Franke Born in Berlin, Germany in April, 1953, Christopher Franke studied classical music and composition at the Berlin Conservatory. At that time he was influenced by such composers as John Cage and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen and was actively involved in rock and jazz music. Together with his composition teacher, Franke set up a sound studio within the music school. The improvisation courses they conducted resulted in a project that evolved into the Berlin School of Electronic Music. It was there that Franke met Edgar Froese and became a member of Tangerine Dream.

The line-up of Froese, Franke and Steve Shroyder recorded Alpha Centauri in 1971, after which Schroyder was ousted from the band. It was only then that TD reached its first stable line-up, with the addition of:

Peter Baumann

Peter BaumannBorn in Berlin on January 29th, 1953, Peter Baumann started his musical career as organist with the amateur band Burning Touch. He was, in Froese's words, a more intuitively trained artist. He never had any musical lessons nor did he want to follow musical terms, which made him ideal for the band's live concerts where the motto was "everything goes".

The trio of Froese, Franke and Baumann went on to make such eclectic space rock albums as Zeit and Atem. It was the latter album that would change things forever.

Tangerine Dream's big break came in 1973, when famous BBC DJ John Peel elected TD's album Atem his Record of the Year. This put the album and the band in the spotlight, thereby catching the attention of Richard Branson, whose label Virgin Records had already become a major player in the recording industry, thanks to the massive success of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Branson initially signed the band for a period of five years, but Tangerine Dream would eventually stay with Virgin for a period of ten years. This period in TD's history has become known as the Virgin Years, and is generally regarded as the band's golden age.

In 1974 Tangerine Dream released their first album for Virgin. Entitled Phaedra (the name is derived from Greek mythology: Phaedra was the daughter of Minos, King of Crete), the album was an artistic milestone and hugely influential. It was on Phaedra that the band used Moog sequencers for the first time, thus creating the trademark hypnotic sequencer patterns that they would keep using throughout their career.

Edgar Froese

Rubycon, released in 1975, was in many ways a sister album to Phaedra, while the live album Ricochet (named for a game that was very popular with the band while on tour), released later that same year, was a document of another defining characteristic of the Froese-Franke-Baumann line-up: contrary to most bands now and then, TD did not go on stage to play a selection from their back catalogue of studio albums. Instead, TD concerts in this period were one hundred percent improvised. On many occasions, the musicians would decide on the key to start the concert in only moments before going on stage. This working method invariably led to very varied concerts, where moments of boredom alternated with moments of sheer brilliance. Many of the latter, recorded at TD's famous Cathedral concerts in 1975, were combined into Ricochet's two sidelong tracks. The same recipe was followed for Encore, a registration of TD's North American tour in 1977, and the last album with Peter Baumann. In between these two live albums, TD released Stratosfear in 1976. This album had a more structured approach to songmaking, and served as a precursor to TD's development in the early eighties.

Steve Jolliffe replaced Baumann, and with this line-up TD released Cyclone in 1978. This album was a departure from the direction on previous albums in many ways, the most radical being the use of vocals. Vocals had been used before as a sound effect, most notably on Atem, but never in the traditional sense of sung lyrics. Also, the addition of a live drummer in the form of session musician Klaus Krieger meant that the album sounded more like Krautrock than TD had ever before. Cyclone was a very controversial album which many fans disliked (especially because of Jolliffe's vocals) and deemed a failed experiment by the band. Jolliffe left the band to concentrate on a solo career, and Froese and Franke recorded the fan-favourite Force Majeure in 1979.

In late 1979, Froese attended a performance of the play Death, Destruction and Detroit at the Berlin Schaubühne. He was so enthusiastic about the performance and especially the sound collages that had been created to accompany it, that he invited the composer of these sound collages to join Tangerine Dream. That composer was:

Johannes Schmoelling

Johannes SchmoellingBorn in Lohne, Germany in 1950, Johannes Schmoelling began playing the piano at the age of eight. By age twelve he had developed a fascination with the pipe organ, and within two years had mastered the instrument to such a level that he began to play professionally in various churches. After graduating college in 1978 with a degree in sound engineering, Schmoelling began doing work for live theatrical performances at the aforementioned Berlin Schaubühne, allowing him to combine his technical and musical interests. Schmoelling brought to TD his experience in writing and playing good piano and keyboard arrangements. With Schmoelling, TD's sound would evolve into one that was more structured and melodic than it had been in previous incarnations.

By accepting Froese's invitation, Schmoelling returned TD to its familiar trio status, and after he had settled in, TD resumed work on a piece of music that Froese and Franke had already been working on prior to Schmoelling joining the band. This piece of music was called:


Tangram album cover

Why Tangram?

Tangerine Dream is a band of milestones. Phaedra, Stratosfear, Force Majeure, Tangram, Poland, they could all be subject of a Counting out Time article. I made the choice for Tangram based both on personal preference and on its merit in musical history. It was the first album of the line-up that would later revolutionize film soundtracks: before Tangerine Dream scored such films as Thief and Risky Business, no one in Hollywood really knew what electronic music was. Now famous film music composers like Hans Zimmer draw heavily on TD's legacy. This line-up would also have an extremely big influence on the synthesizer and keyboard industry. Many Japanese keyboard manufacturers would not have existed today, were it not for TD's involvement in the specification and design of new boards. This more than justifies putting the spotlight on this specific era in TD's existence through one of the highlights of its recorded output.

What is a tangram?

Tangram is the name for a very old type of Chinese puzzles. These puzzles consist of a square cut into seven pieces which are then combined into various figures.

Tangram puzzle

The music

Tangram consists of two continuous pieces of music, both taking up one half of the original vinyl album. The two pieces are aptly titled Set 1 and Set 2.

Set 1

There is no gradual build-up to Set 1, like in many earlier TD pieces. Rather, it jumps right into the melody, a rather attractive sequence with a vaguely flutelike sound. If flutes could be plucked they might sound like this. The backing is minimal: most notable are a few occasional bass notes and some synthesized chimes.

After just over a minute the sequence changes, and a dreamlike atmosphere starts to build up, with what may be a strummed guitar, and some choirish synths. Things intensify after about three and a half minutes - a new dual sequence has developed by now - with keyboard chords and synth-horns. Around the four and a half minute mark there's a whoosh, and synthesized drums appear for the first time. Then the track suddenly turns into something that can best be described as an 18th century fife-and-drum march. This lasts for fifteen seconds after which the drums leave. The music continues to be rather anthemic, with a stirring bassline and a keyboard solo on Froese's Roland Guitar synth.

Froese's guitar appears a few seconds before the sixth minute, playing a melody that generally resembles the one played previously by the keyboard. After the guitar solo, a couple of keyboards play around on the same kind of theme, and some filter sweep effects (the "bzzeowww"), played on Schmoelling's Oberheim OB-X, can be heard. These filter sweeps would become a staple of many more early eighties TD pieces.

Froese, Franke, SchmoellingAt around the eight minute the anthemic section breaks down with an extra long filter sweep, ushering in more of those synth chimes, and a beautiful piano solo by Schmoelling. Things get livelier at around the ninth minute, as Froese strums some broken chords, and a keyboard plays the melody from the piano intro of the first side of Pergamon (see under Tangram Live).

This section breaks down around the ten and a half minute mark. Footsteps approach, along with rhythmic clicking sounds. The set goes into an ambient section, with some stringlike synths. Around the thirteenth minute the most intense part of the set begins. A driving bass sequence is accompanied by another tense sequence, and a bit of guitar. More filter sweeps and a heraldic synth-horn line lead the set into an upbeat section. Multi-layered and continually changing sequencer lines evoke a sense of urgency, until a wailing synth solo ends the section.

The last two minutes of the set consist of a more laid-back version of the Pergamon melody that was first introduced in the track at around the seventh minute.

Set 2

Set 2 begins with a long intro carried by synth strings. At around the second minute the flutes of Set 1 make another, brief appearance. A faint ticking sound begins just past the third minute, preceding a synth-horn and strummed guitar chords which lead up to the main sequence of this set. Drums show up, and the music continues in this vein for a little while.

The sequence starts changing after about five minutes into the set, and sound effects, among them an eerie choir, some murmured voices, and an unidentifiable scratching sound, start playing over the sequence.

At the six minute mark, a second sequence appears and harmonizes with the first one. A short break follows, wherein this new sequence gets the spotlight for a little while, and then the action resumes, but now with dramatic keyboard chords. Just before the seventh minute Franke solos on the Oberheim OBY-ONE, the output of which has been driven through a couple of fuzz-boxes.

Ten minutes into the set a floating Mellotron choir appears, that hearkens back to the Rubycon album. Some beautiful floating ambience begins at around the eleven and a half minute mark, which is also reminiscent of TD's earlier days. After a bit of weird noise, a sequence solidifies and keyboards join in. A slightly more complex sequence overtakes the previous one about thirteen minutes into the set. Eventually, things quiet down and all that remains of the sequence is a single note repeating in time with the beat.

Some sound effects lead into the closing section, which starts with a Mellotron choir just before the eighteenth minute. A melody starts just over a minute later, after which the music dies down.

Tangram Live

Tangram was never played live as such. While TD concerts were no longer fully improvised like they were in the early to middle seventies, much of the material that was played live had not been previously released on studio albums or would only be released until later (a lot of unreleased live material ended up on various film soundtracks), although it would often be rehearsed in the studio. Indeed, live albums like Logos (1982) and Poland (1984) contain material that cannot be found on any preceding studio albums, although pieces of Poland were later included in soundtracks.

Froese, Franke & Schmoelling live in 1982

However, parts of Tangram were premiered live during TD's concert at the Palast der Republik in East Berlin on January 31st, 1980, some weeks before the album's release. This concert was later released as Pergamon. For instance, the piano solo which starts the first side of Pergamon is an alternate version of the synth solo which takes place just before the "footstep" part in Tangram Set 1.

What came after

Tangram was only the beginning of what would prove to be one of the most prolific eras in the existence of Tangerine Dream. Between 1980 and 1985, the line-up of Froese-Franke-Schmoelling released five studio albums, three live albums and eight soundtrack albums. Schmoelling left in 1985 to pursue a solo career, and Franke did the same in 1987. The contemporary TD is formed around the nucleus of Edgar Froese and his son Jerome Froese, and still releases albums regularly. Who knows: perhaps the band's current output will seem as timeless in twenty years' time as Tangram does now.

Written by Derk van Mourik

Sources for text and pictures:
• The official Johannes Schmoelling website
• The official Tangerine Dream website
• The official Chris Franke website
• Pavel's Page
• German Rock Lexicon
• A Tangerine Dream page
• The Tadream mailinglist archives, which I used heavily for the Tangram album review.

Album Reviews